Two children may both each receive a lollipop at the grocery store. However the method in which they won their treat has the power to teach two vastly different lessons. It simply will not go well for our children to think that they will be happy by acting miserably. When we reward them for acts of kindness, patience and love we are directing them towards a life of joy and contentment.
I can picture the scene in my mind like it was yesterday.
Chubby legs kicking, back stiffened straight, child wailing, “NO mommy. NO get into the cart.”
Exasperated, I wondered if this trip to the grocery store was in vain. However, I needed to get food for dinner that night and this was my only opportunity.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that there was a lollipop buried in the bottom of my purse. Holding my daughter heavy on my hip with one arm, I frantically searched until I found it.
And, then I did the very thing I knew was wrong. I looked at her and quietly bribed,
“If you get in the cart, you can have this lollipop.”
At that moment she complied. While I may have won the momentary battle, I knew that I was losing the war. Rewards and bribes may appear similar in practice, but in reality they teach completely opposite lessons to our children. Here are three ways that bribes and rewards differ in subtle, yet important ways as we parent our children.
Who’s in Charge?
At the moment when I gave into my daughter’s tantrum, the reality is that she was in charge of our interaction.
A bribe is child demanded while a reward is parent directed.
For instance, in the car, it would have been wise for me to look at my toddler and say, “I know it sometimes can be difficult to be in the grocery cart. If you can get in the cart with no fuss and sit patiently, there may be a surprise for you in mommy’s purse.”
This simple conversation puts me in charge of our trip to the grocery store. A reward flows from proactive discernment that certain situations may be difficult for my child rather than reactive exasperation when things aren’t going well.
How’s it given?